Nicely ‘Normal’ show for children

  • By David Wiegand
    San Francisco Chronicle
November 20, 2014

Amazon’s new children’s series, “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street,” is a welcome reminder of televison’s lack of imagination. Maybe it helps that the new show, aimed at kids 6 to 11, was created by someone who is an industry outsider. The first six episodes are available today from Amazon Studios for Amazon Prime members.

There’s a quaintness about “Normal Street,” reminiscent of a time when kids TV was all about fun and homemade adventure. Gortimer (Sloane Morgan Siegel) is an average 13-year-old who tries to do the right things in life as he steps into adolescence, only slightly aware of what the next phase of his life will entail.

As far as he’s concerned, life can stay just as it is as he pals around with his two best friends, impish Ranger (Drew Justice), who is trying to curb his use of bad language by substituting food items for swear words, and Mel (Ashley Boettcher), a super-smart junior scientist who sometimes sets impossibly high standards for herself.

Each episode has a touch of fantasy about it, but just a touch. There are no wizardly neighbors from Waverly Place or blogging talking dogs. But there is a blind elderly lady (Fionnula Flanagan) who believes she is haunted by a frog who was once the boy of her childhood dreams. We also meet Stanley (David Bloom), the unluckiest kid on Normal Street, whose fate seems to be governed by a mysterious mobile housed in a library.

Oscar winner Luke Matheny, the show’s executive producer, dons his actor’s hat to play Fred, a strange young man who has a magic pencil enabling him to forget anything he wants to simply by writing it down and then erasing it. Over the years, he’s all but forgotten his entire life. Now, he is not only carefree, but without friends, family or much of a life at all.

The kids on “Normal Street” are refreshingly normal. Their idea of adventure might be a modern-day soapbox derby, or building a robot for the school science fair. Is it realistic? Perhaps aspirational, but how realistic is a blogging talking dog?

The show was created by preschool teacher and first-time writer David Anaxagoras as the first project to be green-lit through Amazon’s open-door pilot submission process. There are plenty of reasons why any modern-day parent would want to keep their kids from watching TV at all, but “Normal Street” isn’t one of them.

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